Nobody likes to pay for auto repairs, especially incredibly expensive ones.
So how can an automotive service patron tell if the work a repair shop recommends is really necessary or if the business is just trying to dupe the customer?
I've compiled some tips thatwhile they can assist consumers in making better choices about auto repairmay also help shops stay on the straight and narrow, not to mention communicate more effectively with customers:
c Do your research before you go in. Having a good idea of what to expect before even setting foot in a repair shop is being a smart consumer. Check the hourly rates of different shops, as they can vary dramatically.
If you need a specific part for your vehicle, check with different shopsone might be able to get a better price than another. If the repair is considered a big job, find out how long it will take to complete the job as this can vary by shop.
c Reputation and certifications. If you think you've found the perfect place to get your car serviced, think again. You'll want to do your own personal background check before guaranteeing your business to that place.
Ask your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers about their experiences with the service centerand even look for online reviews on Yelp or social media sites. You'll also want to ensure that the facility is AAA-certifiedor certified by the equivalent of AAAadheres to the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) Code of Ethics and employs ASE-certified technicians.
c Know your car's suggested services. Be sure to check when your vehicle will need certain serviceslike an oil change or sparkplug replacementso that you can have the mechanic perform those actions only when necessary. If he or she tries to do something prematurely, ask for a detailed explanation why.
c Get everything in writing. No service should be agreed to unless it is put in detailed writing. Approve every bit of maintenance with your signature before allowing a shop to do anything. It will be very clear what you are agreeing to have done, and you should receive an accurate price estimate at this time.
c Ask to see old parts. If a mechanic claims to have replaced a part with a new one, you have every right to ask to see the old part to ensure that he or she actually did replace it.
c Understand that repair costs are going to be high. There's really no avoiding it. Parts are expensive, and they will be marked up even higher by the service facility so that it can make a profit. Labor costs are also expensive but vital for the service facility to do business. You may not want to pay for 10 hours of labor, for instance, but having the mechanic do a terrible job in half the time is the only other option.
c Understand the three types of repairs. The first is necessary repairs in order for your car to perform safely. This is work that must be performed.
The second type, preventive, is repair work that is not urgent but is likely to need attention at a future date. By agreeing to preventive work now, you may be saving a fortune on a much bigger problem later on down the road.
Finally, recommended repair work is maintenance that could improve your car's performance, such as fuel efficiency or acceleration. Be sure to research each service that the technician details and decide which ones you will approve.
c Be aware that diagnostic labor charges are necessary. Paying a service technician for two hours just to diagnose a problem with your car may seem outrageous, but it is important to keep you and your vehicle safe. If the technician is not paid for this diagnostic time, he or she likely would rush through the job and may overlook something that is terribly wrong with the vehicle. In addition, the technician may find something else wrong with the car during this time.
c A technician who reports additional necessary repairs isn't likely trying to cheat you. If a technician finds additional necessary repair work, it would be unethical for him or her not to report it. Instead, you may, if you wish, take the time to examine the new problem on your own or seek a second opinion before agreeing to the work.
c Stick with a service center you like. Once you find a technician or facility that you trust, stick with it. Not only will you feel more secure with your vehicle, you'll be using someone who is familiar with your car and the service it's had done and will needthe same way you rely on the same doctor for your children or veterinarian for your pets.
c Go with your gut. If you can't find anything wrong with a service center, but something still feels a little fishy, don't ignore your instincts. Find a new service center with which you are comfortable.
Lisa Copeland, founder of the website BuyingCarsHerWay.com, has more than 25 years of experience in the auto industry. In 2012 she was named one of the Five Most Powerful Women in Austin, Texas, by the Austin Business Journal. As managing partner of Fiat of Austin, Ms. Copeland was recently honored by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for record-breaking Fiat 500 sales. With extensive knowledge of hiring, training and retaining diverse candidates, she is considered an expert in sales and management and has been featured in publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Marie Claire and Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business. Ms. Copeland also is the co-founder of Women Impacting the Nation and the Project 19 Foundation, non-profit organizations dedicated to forwarding leadership roles for women. Through BuyingCarsHerWay.com, she offers inside information to female consumers in an effort to empower women as consumers.